March 20, 2004

Creating the Right Image

I was having dinner the other night with three people from Tasmania and in the course of our conversation they asked what I had planned for the weekend. When I mentioned I was going 4WDing they all went conspicuously quiet. The woman to my left then told me that where she lives in Tasmania 4WDers are not very popular, that she often goes walking in a nearby National Park area and on more than one occasion has had to dodge and weave past people driving their 4WDs in a reckless and less than friendly fashion. I quickly added that I was with a 4WD Club, expecting that would convince her that we were different, but she replied that most of the “hoons” she comes across also seem to be part of organized groups as well…

I then mentioned that we would be visiting an area normally closed to vehicles through a negotiated access agreement between the 4WD Association and NSW National Parks, and that we would be assisting National Parks with some tree planting before heading off to enjoy the area. Her whole demeanour changed. Suddenly, this person who was obviously a passionate environmentalist realised that we were not the same kind of hillbillies that she had encountered in her walks back home, but that we also had some greater ongoing commitment to the bush and its wellbeing.

I thought it was an interesting conversation, and it really highlighted to me just how powerful this MOU agreement with National Parks could be in helping to define the image of 4WDing we can portray to the general public. Like it or not, image is reality. In people’s minds, we are whatever they perceive us to be. And as 4WDers, our image is often tarnished by a handful of idiots who do the wrong thing, despite the fact that in reality we do care deeply about the bush and our access to it.

So, with some enthusiasm, we all gathered in the main street of Picton on Saturday morning before heading down to our meeting place at Buxton. Along the way we managed to pick up a couple of members of the South Coast 4WD Club who had also come along to help plant the trees. Arriving at the meeting place at 9:10, we were supposed to meet Dave Brown, the local 4WDNSW liaison person for the Nattai region who was managing our access for the day, along with the ranger and his truck full of seedlings for planting.

Anyway, long story short, there had been some sort of mixup and messages had not been passed on, with the bottom line being that the NPWS ranger had not turned up. We made a series of phone calls to try to address the situation, but after a while it became clear that, on this occasion at least, there would be no tree planting. I think most people were genuinely disappointed at not having any work to do in order to “earn” this trip, but Dave Brown advised us that under the circumstances, it would be ok for us to access the area anyway. He then drew us a mudmap, explained which areas were off limits and which were ok, and shared some of his local knowledge of the area with us.

After letting our tyres down and locking hubs we trundled off down the hill into the valley. Finally meeting the creek, (without much water in it) we followed it along to the parking area at the end before continuing on foot for a look at the Buxton Steps. This was obviously a playground for hardcore 4WDers in the past with some very interesting A Grade rock steps and ledges, but is now off limits to vehicles. Although physically possible to get a vehicle to them, we naturally respected the rule and stayed off them.

Heading up the hill towards the powerlines track, we followed the trail for a while using some GPS tracks provided to me by David Rossiter. After a few kilometres of travelling along the ridge we decided that the area back near the carpark was the prettiest spot anyway, so we turned around and headed back. One of the South Coast Club guys, Don, found a great little A grade pinch on the way back and used his lockers to show just what a capable combination he and his car were. Dave Shapcott had a go as well, but without lockers, found the going a bit rough so decided to back off – probably a wise decision. Along the way back to the creek, we found a couple of other obstacles which were still good fun and gave a lot of the newer club members a chance to play on terrain which many of them found challenging and interesting.

At the creek, we had lunch and a swim, and some just lazed around enjoying the scenery. It’s a nice swimming hole down there, quite deep, and the Ahonen kids discovered the mossy overhanging rock was just perfect as a slippery slide into the water. We hung about the swimming hole for an hour or so before eventually deciding to head back home. Taking another side detour up a challenging little hillclimb, we crisscrossed back along the creek and up the big hill to the main road. Most people said their goodbyes and left from here although a small group of us were curious about Thirlmere Lakes so popped in for a quick look on the way home.

It was a good day trip, and although parts of it require special access, I’m told that most parts of it are open all the time anyway. It was a shame we didn’t get to do the tree planting, but I will make a few phone calls and try to re-arrange it in the future sometime.

In the meantime, keep your eye open for more MOU trips (like the one coming up next weekend to Big Yengo) And if you happen to come on an MOU trip sometime, tell people about it!! Tell your workmates, tell your friends, tell anyone who will listen. Tell them about the deal between the Association and the NPWS. Tell them about the work we do (or at least try to do!) Tell them about the fact that members of 4WD Clubs are trusted in areas where others aren’t.

Not only are these trips a great chance to legally access areas which are normally off-limits, but I really do believe that if enough people get to hear about what we do, they might even change some minds about our public image as 4WDers.

Chris Betcher
March 2004

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